Sustainable, organic farming offers a fresh, local alternative to supermarket foods. However, some people might find it difficult to shop locally, and low-income individuals may have trouble affording farm shares and local food. Lauren Howe ’13 is working to correct both problems as an intern for Grow Food Northampton in Northampton, Mass. The organization runs the new Northampton Community Farm, where Howe helps manage farm programs, help low-income individuals and learn about organic farming and nonprofit work.
Howe received a stipend from the Summer Internship Support Fund through the Career Center. This fund was established in 2005 by John G. Rice, Class of 1978, to provide supplemental cost of living support to students pursuing summer internship opportunities.
The Grow Food Northampton is a nonprofit organization committed to building food security through sustainable agriculture initiatives. The movement started with a group of people trying to save 120 acres of land from development. The land, which consists of the Bean and Allard farmlands, is considered a cultural heirloom and was once owned by an influential abolitionist community. In under a year, the group raised $600,000 to buy the land, which is now host to the Northampton Community Farm (NCF) among other projects. The GFN movement is dedicated to cultivating this land, part of which will feature an organic community garden with subsidized plots to increase affordability to low-income individuals.
As an intern for GFN, Howe is responsible for a wide variety of tasks. She is managing the Affordable Farm Share Program and the Senior Citizen Farm Share program, helping GFN build relationships with nearby communities, working for the Operations, Planning and Grant Committees of the Florence Organic Community Garden and working with the Keep Farming initiative.
Managing the Affordable Farm Share Program, Howe’s work helps introduce low-income individuals to sustainable farming and ensures that they have access to fresh, local foods. Howe is also researching grants and funding opportunities to obtain EBT machines so that low-income individuals can use SNAP Benefits, or food stamps, at local farms.
Howe is also working to build collaborations with other community organizations, including Northampton Survival Center emergency food pantry, soup kitchens, homeless shelters and drug rehabilitation facilities. Besides donating excess food to these organizations after the harvest, GFN will provide other services. For example, Howe will help facilitate workshops at the emergency food pantry about important food topics such as budgeting and nutrition.
Among other aspects of her internship Howe is learning about sources of funding, how best to invest GFN resources, soliciting memberships and spreading information about the community farm. Her work will allow her to travel with GFN employees to visit nearby farms, the State House and other key locations.
Finally, Howe is working with representatives from the Glynwood Institute for Sustainable Food and Farming and a committee of local women on the Keep Farming Northampton initiative. This project aims to create an Agricultural Economics Report to present to the Northampton Agricultural Commission. Howe is compiling census data, land-use and property reports, and doing historical research. Keep Farming works to assess the current state of Northampton agriculture and find ways to make improvements for the future.
Howe, an environmental studies major, was drawn to GFN for its support of issues that she is interested in, including social justice, food access, community outreach and grassroots organizing. After graduating from Hamilton, Howe is considering entering the nonprofit sector in the area of food access or pursuing environmental law, both of which relate to her work with GFN.
Besides furthering her career goals, Howe’s internship allows her support to a long-term change in her community. She explains, “This organization and its work is important because the Northampton Community Farm is part of the paradigm shift away from industrialized food, as it is a sustainable space that will be enjoyed for generations to come.” Furthermore, because the NCF has subsidized plots, it helps address the issue of universal food accessibility while supporting local, sustainable farming.
Howe’s dedication to volunteering and the environment also extends to her experiences on the Hill. Last February, she co-founded a chapter of Slow Food at Hamilton. The organization is planning for National Food Day on October 24th and working on a fair Farm Bill.
The GFN movement started as an idealistic vision of a community garden. Now, the garden is very close to its first growing season. Howe’s internship allows her to participate in a movement that promises to provide sustainable farming and local produce to all members of the community.
Lauren Howe is a graduate of Hampshire Regional High School in Westhampton, Mass.